4 Winter Immunity Tips
For many people, winter is synonymous with getting sick. The cold weather arrives and the seasonal cold or flu that hits many people around the same time is back with a vengeance. While it can be nearly impossible to completely avoid the viruses that cause these illnesses altogether, it is possible to focus on your immune health to help further protect yourself if you happen to come into contact with a pathogen.
After all, your immune system is your personal line of defense. When it is running at its best, a cold or flu can be easier to cope with and get over. In some cases, a strong immune system can keep you from experiencing symptoms at all. So, what is the best way to improve immunity in winter? Read on to find out.
Why is immunity low in winter?
There are several reasons why the immune system gets kicked into low gear when the winter months roll in. One is the way cold weather can decrease the abilities of certain areas of the immune system.
One study performed by Yale scientists found that dropping temperatures can weaken the immune defenses in the nose and nasal passages. The scientists looked at how airways fight off viruses in varied temperatures; in colder temperatures, the immune system reacted in a subpar way. The mechanism behind this lowered immune reaction isn’t well understood, but it does prove that there’s a biological component to lowered immunity during the winter months.
Other research has suggested that winter weakens the immune system because it is less sunny. Because the sun offers a lot of the body’s vitamin D, which is essential to the proper functioning of the immune system, many people become deficient or low in the nutrient during the winter months, leaving their defenses less than ready to fight off illness.
How do you stay healthy in the winter?
While you can’t avoid the cold weather altogether, you can do things to help keep your immune system functioning as well as possible. Taking care of yourself and your immunity is the best way to stay healthy throughout the winter months and avoid that cold or flu that tends to visit every year.
1. Know your immune system
Sometimes, simply knowing how your immune system works can help you in the fight against a cold or the flu. There are two main components to your immune system response: innate and adaptive. The innate response is non-specific and is triggered when any sort of pathogen enters the system. It is the first alarm bell that goes off to wake up immune cells and prepare them for battle. The adaptive area, on the other hand, is full of cells that have fought off specific viruses before and are ready to do it again if the need arises. Both play an integral role in keeping you healthy.
Since you know that your nasal defenses fight are less effective when they get colder, you can focus on keeping them warm while outside in cold temperatures. This could mean wearing a scarf around your nose and mouth to keep the area as close to body temperature as possible.
2. Understand your sleep cycle’s role in immunity
Sleep and the immune system are closely linked. As you sleep, your body prepares certain immune cells, known as T-cells, to fight off infection. By enhancing the ability of these cells, a good sleep pattern can keep you better protected.
Many people may feel as though they need to sleep more during the winter because of less sunlight, but the trick is to get the best quality of sleep possible each night. The better you sleep, the better the immune protection you’ll have.
3. Know what to eat and what not to eat
Diet plays an integral role in your immune health. What you eat and don’t eat can set the tone for the health of your immune response; there are many foods that can help your first line of defense and others that can cause inflammation and a weakened immune response.
Foods such as colorful vegetables, lean meats, healthy fats, fermented foods, high fiber foods, and herbs and spices are all great additions to your diet if you want to avoid a pesky winter illness. Foods that can increase inflammation, such as high-sugar foods, fast foods, heavily processed foods, or foods high in refined carbs or trans fats should be avoided if you also want to avoid winter sickness.
4. Pay attention to your body and supplement when necessary
As mentioned above, vitamin D is a crucial for proper immune function, and unfortunately, the winter can leave your stores a little low. Perhaps you have a diet that is rich enough in vitamin D to give you a good boost, but if you don’t, you can always supplement while you’re not exposed to the sun as much as you’re used to. If you’re feeling fatigued or weak in the muscles, or are experiencing symptoms of depression, you may just need a little extra vitamin D to get you through the colder months.
While avoiding sickness in winter altogether isn’t easy, it’s not impossible. Taking a little extra care to listen to your body when the cooler weather rolls around can make all the difference between being healthy and catching a pesky cold.